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McKinney resident's book shows immigrants' struggle for citizenship
Courtesy of Jacintha Griffith - McKinney resident Jacintha Griffith, second from right, recently released her book, "Coveting the Dream," about a young Belize woman who struggles to achieve the American dream. Griffith, a native of Grenada, wanted to bring awareness to the uphill battle for legal residency she says many immigrants face.
By Chris Beattie,email@example.com
Is the American dream simply that - a dream? To Jacintha Griffith, it's a reality.
But in her book, "Coveting the Dream," the McKinney resident shows that's not always the case for immigrants.
"America's been advertised for many years as the 'Land of Opportunity,' and with that kind of advertisement, everyone will want to come here," said Griffith, who came to the U.S. in 1979 after growing up on Grenada, an island in the Caribbean. "It's inherent in people to always gravitate to where they can have a better life. But unfortunately, when people come to the U.S. with that dream, it's not an easy transition. It's not an easy thing."
Griffith, an occupational therapist, released the book in July. It tells the story of Serena, a na´ve 20-year-old woman from Belize who sneaks into the U.S. illegally to reunite with her boyfriend, but ends up pursuing her own "dream" in the face of hardship and heartache.
It's a fiction tale with non-fiction undertones. "This story has really never been told - how difficult it is for people who come into the U.S. to find their way and to make a life for themselves against all the obstacles to legal residency," Griffith said.
And though Griffith is the author, her own story isn't a far cry from Serena's. She ended up in the States by accident, leaving Grenada in February 1979 for a four-week trip to North America, where she planned to spend two weeks each in Canada and the U.S. Awaking one morning in Winnipeg, news stations blasted about the revolution in Grenada.
"I realized I couldn't go back home," recalled Griffith, whose husband was a Grenada police officer suddenly trying to get off the island. "I found myself pretty much stranded, not knowing where to turn or what direction to take. It was a struggle, but for me the outcome was amazing."
Reunited with her husband, neither had a Green Card. They relied on sponsorship, one of few options immigrants have for obtaining residency.
No matter what careers they leave behind, Griffith said, they're often forced below their expertise, and "grieve the loss of those careers."
"When you come into the U.S. as a professional, it's very rare that you can practice your trade," she said. As a therapist, Griffith once worked with a 3 year old whose parents were doctors in Colombia. The mother had a non-medical job at a hospital, and the father worked at Boston Market.
Griffith said her and her husband's sponsor family "really went to bat for us." Others aren't so fortunate, with some sponsors abusing their workers, verbally, physically and sexually, as Griffith has found out through interactions with other immigrants.
"There was a case in New Jersey when I lived there where a young Filipino woman was literally killed by the people for whom she nannied," she said. "There are a lot of stories like this, but we don't hear about them. We don't hear about people who are afraid to go out because their employers say they'll get arrested."
Serena's experience in the book illustrates and sheds light on many of the issues Griffith has with how immigration is handled and portrayed today in America.
Griffith worked for her sponsor four years while earning a degree, and got her Green Card in 1982. She couldn't get her U.S. citizenship until the mid-1990s.
"I wanted to become a citizen because I wanted the right to vote," she said. "There are a lot of social issues I'm very passionate about, and I want my voice heard. This is where I want to be."
She eventually began working at the World Trade Center as a financial analyst for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After her oldest child was born with developmental disabilities, though, she yearned for a career change.
Griffith handed in her resignation, ready for occupational therapy classes at New York University, and her boss pleaded with her to stay. Following that conversation, looking out from the 69th floor across the Hudson River, she saw her dream's beginning.
"The idea came to me because it took me back to where I started," she recollected. "I landed in Brooklyn and had no idea which way to turn, and here I am today with this option to go from one career into another."
She started the book in 1996, but work and children forced her from it for about a decade. She picked it up again four years ago in Florida, with an empty nest. Her new career had furthered her zeal.
"I feel strongly about immigration because I run into a lot of these issues with people who are here, wanting to work, wanting to do better, but there are all these things in their way - the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over them," Griffith said. "As a person who's been through it, I really want to give the issue a voice and get people to talk about it at the grassroots level."
In 2009, she moved to Texas and finished that "voice." It's now available as an e-Book on Amazon, at Barnes and Nobles, and from her website.
It's a voice that she says could be further drowned out by stricter immigration laws. Griffith agrees with securing the borders, but said America has "lost the compassion" for immigrants it once had. She said a merit-based, more accessible path to legal residency could be available.
Through her book, she hopes to promote that message. She wants the dream to be a reality for everyone who deserves it.
"People come here because they've been told they can do better here, and for the most part, those who come here really want to work," she said. "They just want to make a life for themselves."
For more information, access to Griffith's blog, or to order her book, visit www.jacinthagriffith.com.
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